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Council leaders seek children’s mental health services ‘overhaul’

A complete overhaul of children’s mental health services is needed if young people are to receive better care and support, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).

Long NHS waiting times mean councils have to use stretched budgets to pay for services to plug the gap to get young people the urgent treatment they require, while fragmentation and in the system forces young people and their families into a complex struggle with multiple practitioners and agencies.

The LGA wants more government funding and resources to ensure early diagnosis for children.

It also wants better integration of children and adult mental health services so that practitioners and commissioners are working more closely together and young people and their families do not have to cope with a fragmented system.

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: “It is totally unacceptable that vulnerable young people who need help can end up falling through gaps in the system being widened because of funding pressures which are fuelling long NHS wait times.

“We are pleased that the government and the NHS has recognised local government's call that more must be done to tackle the challenges faced each day by children, young people and their mums and dads who need to access mental health support by introducing a taskforce to try and join up services. We are keen to work together on the details of how this can be achieved.

“Councils have worked hard to protect the many services they provide for vulnerable children but in the face of 40% cuts to local government, this has become increasingly challenging. Local authorities need the resourcing and flexibility to be able to invest in prevention and universal services in order to tackle mental health problems.”

In response, a Department of Health spokeswoman stated that the government wants to make sure that children get the mental health care they need. She added that the government has invested £54m to help children get specialist treatment and is scrutinising NHS spending to make sure that mental health is given the priority it needs.

“We are taking immediate action by making more beds available and the taskforce we are appointing will improve commissioning and create more joined-up services for children and young people,” she said. “We are absolutely determined to get this right so that children everywhere get high-quality care.”

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of mental health charity YoungMinds, added that she welcomed the LGA’s comments especially as they highlight that the mental health system for children and young people is extremely fragmented in many places and warns of the dire funding situation.

“Every day we hear from parents, through YoungMinds Parents' Helpline, desperate for help for their child. They either cannot access services or they are stuck for months on a waiting list. Clinicians tell us that their services are at breaking point,” stated Brennan. “There is, however, overwhelming evidence to suggest that if we get it right for children and young people, we will greatly reduce the burden of mental health for future generations.”

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